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The Incompatibility of Materialism and the Desire for Children: Psychological Insights into the Fertility Discrepancy Among Modern Countries

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Abstract

We examined factors related to attitudes toward marriage and the importance of having children in both the US and Singapore. Path analysis indicated that life dissatisfaction leads to materialism, and both of these factors lead to favorable attitudes toward marriage, which leads to greater desire for children. Further analysis indicated this model was effective in explaining the difference in desire for children between Singaporeans and Americans, whereby Singaporeans have lower life satisfaction, higher materialism, and lower attitudes toward marriage and children. Materialistic standards of success were also related to the emphasis women placed on potential marriage partners’ earning capacity. As Singaporean women had higher materialistic standards, they also placed higher emphasis on potential mates’ earning capacity. Results suggest a consideration of psychological variables such as life satisfaction, materialism, and mate preferences may lead to a better understanding of larger-scale socioeconomic issues, including low fertility rates among developed East Asian countries.

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Notes

  1. We used particular subscales of the Richins and Dawson (1992) materialism scale rather than the overall composite because the subscales more precisely matched our hypothesized constructs. However, similar results were also obtained using the composite.

  2. When evaluating a path model, a non-significant χ² value indicates that the model adequately fits the data.

  3. In both models displayed in Figs. 1 and 2 we have omitted certain paths (e.g., in Fig. 1 we omit the direct relationships from both materialism and life satisfaction to desire for children). We do this because our theory suggests that these relationships are mediated by attitude towards marriage. Also, if we included all possible paths in the model then we would have a saturated model (no degrees of freedom), which cannot be statistically tested for its fit with the data.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Singapore Management University research grant #MSS8S017.

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Correspondence to Norman P. Li.

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Li, N.P., Patel, L., Balliet, D. et al. The Incompatibility of Materialism and the Desire for Children: Psychological Insights into the Fertility Discrepancy Among Modern Countries. Soc Indic Res 101, 391–404 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-010-9665-9

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